‘Moving with the Times’ in a Black Swan* year

Without wanting to be accused of dramatic understatement, it’s been a hell of a year. Like any other company, Ludejo felt the effects of the corona pandemic. 

“If the past, by bringing surprises, did not resemble the past previous to it”, what we can call past’s past, “then why should our future resemble our current past?” – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Back to normal, or a new normal..? What is “normal”?

That does not mean that we have been sitting around, trying to wait it out. On the contrary: in spite of the exceptional situation, and sometimes because of it, we have tried many new things. We have tried to move onwards and upwards. We are not waiting for things to go back to normal.

There were rumblings of trouble as early as the end of January. Malon and Andrew were due to travel to California for 2 weeks in March. Flights, accommodation, GALA conference tickets booked. Business meetings planned. A major fundraiser for Translators without Borders planned. People were overreacting to this corona thing, right? GALA took the difficult decision to postpone the San Diego conference at the end of February. The corona virus was real. 

‘Zoombombing’ and ‘doomscrolling’

In early March we discussed working from home. Anybody who felt they would prefer to do so was free to. By mid-March, we were all working from home. That was quite a change for a lot of the team. We are a relatively small group and we were used to seeing each other daily, (or at the very least weekly), at the office in Amersfoort. Everyone had to make a dedicated workplace at home. Ludejo was in a very fortunate position. The communication industry is quite well-suited to working remotely. We already used Slack and Zoom and various other communication tools. Ludejo was a digital company before lockdown. We didn’t need major restructuring. We were very lucky. 

Multilingual communication

We have made strides over the last 2 years to expand our areas of expertise. We have invested heavily in audio visual technology, graphic design and copywriting. We are a multilingual communications bureau. We want to bring colour and clarity to your communications strategy. This diversification presented us with many challenges, (recording audio remotely…) but the opportunities it created far outweighed them. There is no such thing as “normal” when you know you can achieve anything together.

The company has grown this year. We’ve been able to welcome quite a few new colleagues. Making new team members feel included and getting them up to speed with our methods and manners, while also complying with all Covid-19 safety measures, provided yet another challenge. Thanks to the flexibility of the new co-workers, the online training went smoothly. During the relaxation of the measures in the summer we occasionally worked in a converted office – setup with a projector, to allow for in person training. 

A splash of color

We did our best to provide some much needed distraction in this crazy year. That’s how we came up with the Playground Besto coloring pages. Our graphic designer Marrit produced poly-art drawings based on the favorite animals of our team members. These color-by-number drawings were originally conceived as a distraction for children, but secretly (or actually not that secretly) Playground Besto also offered a creative outlet for adults. 

KunstTaal: an inspirational podcast to keep your creative fires burning in this crazy time!

And speaking of creativity: Ludejo Studios released its own podcast at the end of this year, called KunstTaal. “KunstTaal” literally means artificial language in Dutch. Esperanto is an example. Ludejo is Esperanto for “playground”. “Kunst” is the Dutch word for art. “Taal” means language. KunstTaal was a passion project for the founder of Ludejo, Malon.

Museum visits and cultural events were obviously restricted for much of the year. We provided a weekly portion of art through conversations with six different female artists. We visited them in their studios, and learned what motivates them to make art. The videos and podcasts have been published for 2020. We will return in 2021 with another series of KunstTaal. 

  • Thank you again to all the wonderful artists who took part in the first series. We learned so much from you and with you.  


2020 also reiterated just how essential good communication is in times of crisis. We were already convinced that it is important to make information available to everyone. As a company we believe that the transfer of information and knowledge so that it can be available to, and understood by, everyone regardless of location, language field, educational level and culture. A global pandemic throws that mission statement into sharp focus. That is why, in the first months of lockdown and special measures, we translated the most important official communications from the RIVM (National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands) into Arabic, French, Polish, Spanish and Turkish. We also made videos of these instructions with voice over audio and subtitles for people who might have difficulties reading. 

The importance of the work of Translators Without Borders has been emphasized once again this year. This organization ensures that all people have access to the information they need, in crisis situations, in a language they can understand. This is of course crucial, especially in times of corona. They have also been at the forefront of the war on misinformation around the world. 

TWB is an organization that is very close to our hearts. We share their belief that #LanguageMatters. We have been honored to organize a fundraiser for TWB at the GALA and EUATC conferences over the last 4 years. This year, as we mentioned earlier, we were supposed to organize a fundraiser at GALA in San Diego. The name of the fundraiser was “With Great Power for TWB”. Seeing as we were going to be in San Diego, the home of Comic Con, the theme was all about superheroes. We haven’t been able to help TWB this year. We will make up for this next year. 

Translators Without Borders need everyone’s help – especially now. There are so many worthy causes all looking for much needed help right now. It can be overwhelming. Please consider Translators without Borders if you are making donations this Christmas. Every donation will be gratefully received. You can make a contribution here. 

Quality confirmed

Finally, this year showed us what we can achieve when we work together, even in challenging times. Our most recent success is obtaining our ISO-17100 certificate! In fact, we managed to navigate the whole ISO 17100 process, from application, to audit, to the eventual certification, in less than 3 weeks. It helps that we have always worked to these standards. A great accomplishment, which we achieved as a team. 

It was a year of obstacles, but thanks to the continuous support and flexibility of our partners and customers, we got through it in one piece, and as a company we can look back on 2020 with relative satisfaction. 

We wish everyone a healthy and happy end to this year and a peaceful and prosperous 2021!

*The Black Swan Theory

Until Australia was discovered, people were convinced that all swans were white. Before 1770, the idea that swans were not white had simply not been challenged, and so the belief in the certainty that swans were white was absolute. 

The Black Swan Theory is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. The phrase “black swan” derives from a Latin expression; its oldest known occurrence is from the 2nd-century Roman poet Juvenal’s characterization of something being “a rare bird in the lands and very much like a black swan”. When the phrase was coined, the black swan was presumed not to exist. The importance of the metaphor lies in its analogy to the fragility of any system of thought.

One single observation can invalidate a general statement derived from millennia of confirmatory sightings of millions of white swans. All you need is one single black bird. The term subsequently metamorphosed to connote the idea that a perceived impossibility might later be disproven.

As Nassim Nicolas Taleb explained, a Black Swan is an event with the following three attributes: 

  • A black swan event is an event that is unpredictable to the observer.
  • A black swan event results in severe and widespread consequences.
  • After the occurrence of a black swan event, people will rationalize the event as having been predictable (known as the hindsight bias).

Eye of the beholder

A Black Swan event depends on the observer. For example, what may be a Black Swan surprise for a turkey is not a Black Swan surprise to its butcher; hence the objective should be to “avoid being the turkey” by identifying areas of vulnerability in order to “turn the Black Swans grey”. 

Ultimately there is always likely to be a need to produce localized content in the manner in which it is currently being produced, albeit technology will continue to have a far greater influence on how this occurs. However, as the world becomes a truly more intimate, collaborative, familiar and ultimately smaller, conversant environment, solutions will come to the fore that will change the way we communicate forever. These will not signal the death knell for the localization industry but will likely open up a whole new category of innovation, opportunity and application.

Language service partners need to recognize the changes that are occurring around them, if they are going to be able to move from the rather antiquated price per word business model which is seemingly on a constant downward spiral, and move towards a model which is adaptive, flexible, and entirely more representative of the actual value we can generate for our partners. Key to this will be the necessary recognition of our own creativity. Create content that has the primary purpose of improving the lives of the people in your network and a secondary purpose of driving the sales pipeline. We cannot predict the unpredictable, but we can build robustness, adaptive companies that are willing to embrace changes enforced by negative events while still exploiting positive opportunities which arise from these Black Swans. Avoid being the turkey!

  • excerpt of speech given by Ludejo Marketing manager Andrew Hickson at Translation Forum Russia in Yekaterinburg 2018
back to top button